Australian component of the research has drawn on interviews with more than 100 people aged 15 to 25, from a wide range of backgrounds including Indigenous and Anglo Australians and young people with Afghan, African, Asian, European, Maori, Middle Eastern and Pacific Islander heritage. These are among the findings of Monash University Sociologist Associate Professor Anita Harris, who is studying how young people deal with cultural diversity and manage conflict and change. Young people weren’t saying that they didn’t fight, but talked about conflict that had been resolved, things that were in the past, but which local media or politicians would not let go of,” she says. That doesn’t mean that young people in these diverse communities always get along well, or that they embrace diversity, but they accept it as normal,” Associate Professor Harris says. That acceptance includes recognizing that people can mix with others within and across different cultural groups, and allowing people to choose for themselves the way they mix. There is a lot of worry about ethnic youth gangs, young people fighting or failing to understand each other’s backgrounds or needs,” Associate Professor Harris says. Diversity defining normality “For this generation it is normal to be surrounded by diversity and to interact with people of different backgrounds in a way that it is not for older people. She says that far from being a tinderbox of potential racial violence, for many young people their communities are where they feel safest and on an equal footing with others. Young people in culturally diverse communities are shrugging off efforts to categorize and integrate them into a homogenous national citizenship, and are simply getting on with the sometimes messy and uneasy business of living together.

In an intercultural context, conflict is the explicit or implicit emotional struggle or frustrations between people from different cultures over perceived incompatible goals, norms, values, face concerns, scarce resources, and/or communication outcomes. How we manage conflict matters much more than whether or not we engage in it in the first place.

There is a lot of worry about ethnic youth gangs, young people fighting or failing to understand each other’s backgrounds or needs,” Associate Professor Harris says. The issues of identity and belonging are also at the heart of another research project Associate Professor Harris is leading, which is focused on the participation of young Muslims in community and civic life in Australia.

In the interviews, Associate Professor Harris says, many young Muslims said they felt they could be better represented in online forums, without being managed by Australian mainstream media, or politicians, or even their own family or community values. The issues of identity and belonging are also at the heart of another research project Associate Professor Harris is leading, which is focused on the participation of young Muslims in community and civic life in Australia. Global culture Associate Professor Harris says when it comes to the question of national identity, or “being Australian”, many young people resist a single allegiance. Peer researchers were recruited to help, among them Youssef, a 23-year-old university student who represents the kind of “hybrid Australian identity” typical of participants in both of Associate Professor Harris’s studies. Concerns about the marginalization of young Muslims, particularly young men, who might turn to “politically problematic solutions or ideologies” have been a catalyst for the study of young Muslim civic participation. They really valued any forum that allowed them to have an unedited voice, to put their own views, but also to be more playful in articulating their interests and needs,” Associate Professor Harris says. Mr. Youssef says there are people in his community who seem to have accepted labels such as “thug”, often with a perverse kind of pride. Born in Australia, his father is a Muslim of Lebanese-Brazilian descent and his mother is Maltese-Australian who converted from Christianity to Islam when she married. The media depict all Muslims as this homogenous group, but we’re not,” Ms. Karim shah says. There, she says, women do not go to the mosque, but neither do they wear hijabs; while in Australia women can choose to do both, or neither.

The young people bring with them different sets of culturally constructed perspectives toward appropriate behavior. With this in mind, it is no surprise that conflict and disputes exist when communicating across cultures. Further, it should be no surprise that within the context of conflict, people have different sets of perceptions about appropriate ways to handle that conflict.

Still, in any conflict, there is the potential for growth and positive change. Conflict is not necessarily destructive, if handled properly. It can become a valuable tool in building up, skills and personal strengths: when acknowledged and explored in a safe environment, it can provide powerful situations and reactions, to refer to and follow-up after the project. Viewed in this light, the conflict and the way it is managed can be seen as an opportunity to deal with self-esteem and trust.

References

Norwood, Catherine, Chronicle of Higher Education, 00095982, Feb2014 Supplement Monash, Vol. 60

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